Ageism is a large part of the funeral industry and is something actually encouraged by the industry. Many regard it as a minor thing, not even an issue and completely write it off. However, it has a direct and indirect negative impact on companies and individuals.
Many have been telling me of their experiences, how they were discriminated against for being young. Told out right that they were not suitable for a position simply due to age. Despite sometimes being trained and experienced in that role. Or how they were ignored and overlooked by others with less experience because they were younger. Or comments about how younger people are "less mature" and experienced.
Essentially everyone I have talked with under 40 has told me how they faced some sort of age based discrimination. It is an issue with is very common in the industry, one I have found at almost every company. Yet unlike other forms of discrimination this one is actually encouraged.
Ageism is not healthy for the funeral industry for a number of reasons. The first is that it makes younger people less enthusiastic. Quite a few people have told me of how they are now less interested, less passionate in their work. They get labeled as "too young", kept out of certain positions and opinions are ignored. It is no surprise that eventually many lose their interest and passion.
But there is another negative side to ageism in the industry, the one I will focus on in this article. How it directly impacts on employment for the industry.
The funeral industry is one of fluctuation. Work comes and goes unpredictable at all hours and in all place. A company might go out to a specific cemetery every day for a fortnight then not go near it for a whole month. People die at odd hours, and sometimes need to be transfered quickly for a number of reasons. There can be no doubt, the funeral industry is not only 24/7, but unpredictable and comes in waves. This means it is a perfect industry to be supported by casual employees. People who can be called in to help when it is busy, but are not still around with nothing to do when it is quiet.
A great pool of casual staff would be university students. These are people who need money and can work different hours. As a university student I know many people who need jobs, there's always people looking for work. And with about 40,000 at UNSW alone it could be very easy to source good people who are willing to work various hours as needed.
Furthermore students are rather talkative. A lot of social media (such as Facebook) came out of the universities. One of the first things friends would do when i told them I worked at a funeral home was look it up. To employ one student is to talk to several at once, to indirectly engage with a whole social network. In most cases people naturally develop a 'liking' for where they work over others. Take retail for example, those who work at Coles would be much more likely to only shop at Coles. And this goes for their family as well.
It would be quite reasonable for this to happen to those who work in the industry, assuming they have a good experience with the company. One would naturally expect young people to not only recommend the funeral home they work at. But to also recommend it to their family. Take me as an example in action. After working at WNBulls for a year my family came to me and asked for my input on which funeral home to use. Having worked at InvoCare I suggested we use InvoCare, which we also used for other reasons. Essentially InvoCare got two jobs because I worked for the company. The majority of university students (and others that age) have babyboomer parents and grandparents. Two large coveted markets of the funeral industry.
Rather than only targeting these markets directly it might be good to also go after them indirectly. To employ their staff so they develop a natural liking of the company. Then these people would naturally recommend the company and in a way which was not forced.
Another aspect is the long-term investment. Many are preparing for an increase in business as the babyboomers die. How much business will increase is debatable. Either way many within the industry now will be retiring soon, around the time of the increase. So business will go up as current staff leave. A few have said how they are hesitant to hire young people as they change jobs a lot. But one has to wonder about this, as many young people might go. But the few that stay could stay for decades, a 20 year old could easily work for a company for 30 years. When it is unlikely that someone in their 50s will still be there in 30 years. Keeping staff saves on training costs and improves the quality of the staff.
Clearly there are a number of advantages to hiring young people. From a ready supply of cheap and willing labour to a way into a coveted market and engaging with a whole social network. Even saving on training costs in some ways. Despite this young people are all but discouraged from joining the industry. Overlooked and labeled as too immature or inappropriate based solely on age.
This ageist opinion is encouraged by the industry as a whole and no one company is at fault. Too many label anyone under 40 (especially those around 20) as immature and unexperienced. Often comparing them to their own children and forgetting how people behave differently at work and at home.
Ageism is such an issue within the funeral industry. One that I will be tackling in the future. It will never go, but maybe it will no longer be encouraged.